Thursday, June 4, 2009

Video Insider: Upfronts May Be Here To Stay, But Media Bundling Has Got To Go!

Upfronts May Be Here To Stay, But Media Bundling Has Got To Go!

Every year about this time I see media coverage proclaiming this to be the last year that we'll see television upfronts. Despite these predictions, every year billions (with a "b") of dollars continue to be spent during this brief time period. In fact, upfronts have actually expanded rather than died. Cable and television networks now each hold separate upfront events! So let's stop proclaiming the death of upfronts and instead focus on how we make them better.

First let me be clear, I truly believe the television upfronts are bad for our clients and even worse for the online ad industry in the long term. Upfronts in their current form are insidious. Advertisers are asked to make huge investments in content long before they know whether anyone will watch. These big brands then tag on a few million dollars to their offline media buys to also buy digital coverage. Being treated like an afterthought in the buying process ensures that online spots themselves are treated like an afterthought in the placement process.

This process of media bundling is terrible for clients. Millions of dollars that could have been leveraged into creative formats, great placements or high value targeting are instead used on low value placements on the (often sub-par) sites of the related cable or television partner. Major advertisers who shape opinions and influence decisions then see disappointing results from their online spend. As a whole, advertisers are getting poor results and online advertising is also being disparaged -- good for the offline media that sold these millions in ads, but bad for us in online media.

There is certainly no incentive for existing television players to want to maximize digital ad performance or educate their clients about online ROI. They have already acknowledged time and time again that online advertising, with its clear accountability and open media distribution, is much worse for them in the long run.

So how can we do things differently to ensure better results for all parties involved? We need to do two things. First, brand advertisers need to end the practice of tagging their online media buys to their upfront offline media buys. One brand recently invested $100 million in offline placements with a network and $5 million was invested in the network's "digital upfront." Just think of the top-tier placements, creative formats and sparkling results that $5 million could have bought if that brand had offered that size of a buy to the top video properties.

Second, online media players need to invest whenever possible in research and data that demonstrate the value of digital advertising. All digital marketing executives, whether in-house or at an agency, are looking for more data they can share with their CMO and senior management. They need tangible research they can point to that demonstrates how and why spending money online is more efficient. Then, online players need to work to share this data with each other so that we can move this process along even faster.

Last year, Break Media formed the Online Video ROI Council, an organization dedicated to sharing data and strategies. We hold quarterly meetings and discussion forums and encourage advertisers, agencies and other publishers to join us and participate. I certainly think the brands tagging their online buys to upfronts would benefit from this organization.

In closing, let me say that I come not to bury or praise upfronts. But we would all benefit from ending this practice of tagging digital buys on to upfront offline. And no one would benefit more than the brands themselves -- who, under the current system, are sacrificing ROI to expediency.

Richman is CEO of Break Media, the InternetÂ's premier entertainment community for men.

Video Insider for Thursday, June 4, 2009:

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